I was invariably impressed by the sophisticated culinary tastes of my stepdaughter. Even when she was no more than 12 she was prepared to at the very least try any foodstuff of ethnic origin. Never once was there a “What’s that stuff? It looks yucky and I’m not gonna eat it.”
That was a significant departure from when I was growing up in a day when I hadn’t even had spaghetti that didn’t originate in a can before the time I went out to dinner with a favorite uncle who had once been married to an Italian. I think I was in about 10th grade. And in that trattoria I actually tasted ‘real’ spaghetti bolognaise. I instantly fell in love with Italian cuisine and all its wonders.
Since those callow days I would find it fair to say my tastes have matured and I have come to appreciate decent grub in all its national manifestations Some more than others.
In that context consider this blog a kind of United Nations of Nosh, punctuated by my overstated opinions. You may not agree with me but in that context, I say, tough patooties. These are my opinions and I happen to be proud of them however ill-founded they might be.
English: The English are thoroughly deservedly ill-appreciated in the gourmet world. Basic maxim: When in doubt, boil the shit out of it. Of course, as the UK has become more international that has changed. They have come to understand salads. And I have had some meals in London that would equal those I’ve tasted in other major cities. And, regardless of all other considerations, I simply have no greater favorite than rare-ish prime-rib, cardiac-challengingly marbled, with Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes. Heavy on the horseradish, it goes without saying. The English also have the most comical food names, like Bubble-and-squeak, Toad-in-the-hole, and that great sauce of dinnertime merriment, especially among juvenile males, spotted-dick.
French: The French believe they rule the culinary world. Mind you, they believe a lot of things others might dispute. Cuisine a la francais is all about sauces. You can use crap stuff by dolloping great gouts of hollandaise or béarnaise and get away with anything. I love hollandaise and make a very good one myself. The key to anything French is artery-clogging butter in vast quantities and I just decided I’d like a genuine croissant right about now, with a mousse for afters.
Swiss: Good cheese. And then there is the ubiquitous fondue, and that’s about it. Fondue, the meat kind (my favorite) involves dipping little bits of good beef into the boiling fat and utilizing assorted savory sauces and drinking huge quintiles of red wine for hours and hours. Ah, sad memories I can’t recall, as Ray Davies once wrote.
Italian: I can find no fault with Italian food in all its incarnations. And if you’ve traveled in Italy you know that pasta is only one small aspect of some delectable meals. Generally speaking I believe Italian to be superior to French, but that’s my bias.
Indonesian: Not as curious an entry as you might think. I once went to an authentic rijstaffel. It took hours and hours to consume the 80 or so separate dishes. If you’re not peanut allergic it is a treat to delight. If you are peanut allergic you will die.
Thai: Particularly favored Asian cuisine and not entirely different from either Indonesian or Vietnamese, all of which I love. A well-prepared springroll can have me for life.
Chinese: That old Saturday night mainstay. Of course, none of us in the west eats ‘real’ Chinese food. I have a friend who was raised in China and a meal at her home was an entirely different experience from what you’ll get at your Golden Dragon Take Out. A wonderfully different experience. On the other hand, I just can’t get enough sweet-and-sour ribs with that gloppy red sauce, or deep-fried prawns.
Japanese: Teriyaki prawns, Kobe beef and I’m done. Otherwise, a rather boring cuisine. If you aren’t a huge sushi and sashimi buff there isn’t much else. I’m not a huge sushi or sashimi buff, so that’s it. I don’t hate them. I’m just ambivalent about them.
Greek: Man, those Greeks turn out a decent column, and they can wax philosophic with the best of them. But, to me, Greek cuisine is about on a par with Greek grasp of international economics. It leaves much to be desired. And don’t get me started on feta cheese. I revile feta cheese and believe it to be evil.
German: You might think the Germans are more about marching bands, frightening operas, and some mighty fine composers. But, they also have some good – albeit heavy – dishes. In fact, I just got a craving and decided I want schnitzel for dinner tonight. And how can you hate the culinary culture of a people that invented the frankfurter?
Indian: I have to be in the mood for dishes from the subcontinent, but when I am, I love it. This is especially true if we’ve found a good Indian restaurant. World of warning: if it’s an absolutely authentic Indian restaurant, opt for the medium curry. It’s not just that it’s searing going in. Speculate on how it’s going to feel coming out. ‘Bengali bum’ it’s called in some lewd circles.
North American: Ah hell, that’s what we eat all the time so there’s little point in going there.